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The Invasion of the Private Sphere in Iran MEHRANGIZ KAR THE Islamic regime that governs Iran constantly violates the private domain of the Iranian citizen through religious and legal means. The intrusion of political power into the private lives of citizens is characteristic of totalitarian regimes. In Iran the regime has disguised the intrusion as a religious ethics requirement and justifies it by cloaking it in a religious guise. The private sphere of those labeled “dissidents” is more threatened than that of other citizens. Using the legal and religious laws the regime has adopted, government agencies have brought all aspects of the private life of dissidents, critics, artists, and political activists under surveillance. For instance, listening to the telephone conversations of dissidents is a widespread practice, allowing the authorities to monitor and control dissidents’ private interaction and communication. Through these methods the regime conspires against dissidents, accusing them of illegal sexual activities, apostasy, and spying. This infringement of citizens’ private lives by the police and the regime’s security forces by falsely accusing them of ideological and sexual crimes, clearly violates Article 37 of the Iranian constitution, which calls for the presumption of innocence. Violation of the private sphere is not limited to dissidents but extends to all Iranian citizens. Since 1979, technocrats have legitimized this intrusion based on an appeal to Islamic laws. They have drawn on the religious interpretations of political clergy who are connected to political power in Iran to pass legislation that blatantly contradicts the principles of freedom and human rights. SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Fall 2003) The ruling clergy thus puts its stamp of approval on the systematic violation of citizens’ private lives. The constitution of the Islamic Republic that was adopted in 1981 envisioned that the country’s laws and policies would not contravene Sharia, or religious law (this is stated in Article 4 and 94). This means that the rights formulated in the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot be incorporated in Iranian laws—and this also means that government agencies have free rein to carry out their intrusions and oppression. The application of Sharia makes possible the control of the private sphere of citizens’ lives. In this paper I will discuss two legal means by virtue of which the regime keeps private lives of citizens under surveillance. These are: 1) legalized inquisition; and 2) the obligation to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.1 Legalized Inquisition Even though Article 23 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran forbids inquisition, the regime actively carries out the practice. The legal and political architectonics of the Islamic Republic justifies inquisition as necessary for the protection of Islamic and revolutionary values. And the scope of religious government is so vast that it allows for the investigation of every aspect of an individual’s private beliefs. A few examples follow. Individuals trying to register a political party or cultural organization or who want to obtain a license to publish a newspaper must submit to inquisition. To register a political party or to run for office requires a thorough investigation of one’s private convictions . The approval of an applicant depends on a positive evaluation by the administrative agencies. During the evaluation process the agencies not only inspect the applicant’s past but also his or her personal beliefs, private thoughts, and family history. 830 SOCIAL RESEARCH If in any of these areas there is any evidence that the applicant is not committed to the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, or rule by the clergy, his or her application is rejected. The conduct of inquisition for the purposes of political and cultural activities is so rigorous that even the pious are required to prove their faithfulness. Of course, the measure of faithfulness is always how faithful one is to velayat-e faqih. Those whose conduct reveals a critical view of that doctrine or evidence that puts into doubt their absolute loyalty to the regime are branded as infidels, counter-revolutionaries, and spies, and their candidacy for an office or their application for a license rejected. To keep such individuals under surveillance, they are followed, their phone lines are tapped...


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